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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Oncol. | doi: 10.3389/fonc.2019.01101

Bladder cancer exhibiting high immune infiltration shows the lowest response rate to immune checkpoint inhibitors

 Bitian Liu1, 2, Yunhong Zhan2, Xiaonan Chen2, Bin Wu2 and  Shen Pan3*
  • 1China Medical University, China
  • 2Department of Urology, ShengJing Hospital of China Medical University, China
  • 3Department of Radiology, Shengjing Hospital of China Medical University, China

Background: Bladder urothelial cancer (BLCA) treatment using immune checkpoint inhibitors (IMCIs) can result in long-lasting clinical benefits. However, only a fraction of patients respond to such treatment. In this study, we aimed to identify the relationships between immune cell infiltration levels (ICILs) and IMCIs and identify markers for ICILs.
Methods: ICILs were estimated based on single-sample gene set enrichment analysis. The response rates of different ICILs to IMCIs were calculated by combining the ICILs of molecular subtypes in BLCA with the response rates of different molecular subtypes of IMvigor 210 trials to a programmed cell death ligand-1 inhibitor. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis was used to identify modules of interest with ICILs. Functional enrichment analysis was performed to functionally annotate the modules. Screening of key genes and unsupervised clustering were used to identify candidate biomarkers. Tumor IMmune Estimation Resource was used to validate the relationships between the biomarkers and ICILs. Finally, we verified the expression of key genes in molecular subtypes of different response rates for IMCIs.
Findings: The basal squamous subtype and luminal infiltrated subtype, which showed low response rates for IMCIs, had the highest levels of immune infiltration. The neuronal subtypes, which showed the highest response rates to IMCIs, had low ICILs. The modules of interest and key genes were determined based on topological overlap measurement, clustering results, and inclusion criteria. Modules highly correlated with ICILs were mainly enriched in immune responses and epithelial-mesenchymal transition. After screening the key genes in the modules, five candidate biomarkers (CD48, SEPT1, ACAP1, PPP1R16B, and IL16) were selected by unsupervised clustering. The key genes were inversely associated with tumor purity and were mostly expressed in the basal squamous subtype and luminal infiltrated subtypes.
Interpretation: Patients with high ICILs may benefit the least from treatment with IMCIs. Five key genes could predict ICILs in BLCA, and their high expression suggested that the response rate to IMCIs may decrease.

Keywords: WGCNA, Bladder urothelial cancer (BLCA), SsGSEA, Immune checkpoint inhibitor, immune cell infiltration level, biomarker, Molecular subtype

Received: 19 Mar 2019; Accepted: 07 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Liu, Zhan, Chen, Wu and Pan. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: PhD. Shen Pan, Department of Radiology, Shengjing Hospital of China Medical University, Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China, panshencmu@163.com